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The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law

  • When
  • January 21, 2010, 1:00–8:00 p.m. (EST)
  • Where
  • Open Society Foundations–New York
    224 West 57th Street
    New York, NY 10019
    United States of America

Albie Sachs on His Experiences as Part of the First Constitutional Court of South Africa


From a young age, Albie Sachs played a prominent part in the struggle for justice in South Africa. As a result he was detained in solitary confinement, tortured by sleep deprivation and eventually blown up by a car bomb which cost him his right arm and his sight in one eye.

After helping draft South Africa's post-apartheid Constitution, he was appointed by Nelson Mandela to be a member of the country's first Constitutional Court. Over the course of his 15-year term on the court he grappled with major issues confronting modern South Africa, and the challenges posed to the fledgling democracy as it sought to overcome the injustices of the apartheid regime. His book The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law (Oxford University Press) provides an insider's perspective on modern South Africa and a rare glimpse into the working of a judicial mind.

At this OSI event, Sachs speaks on issues which dominated the Sotomayor hearings in the United States: to what extent do life experiences influence the way judges deal with constitutional questions, and how do passion and empathy engage with reason in determining fundamental rights.


  • Albie Sachs, former Justice on the Constitutional Court of South Africa
  • Jack Greenberg, Alphonse Fletcher Jr. Professor of Law at Columbia University. Formerly director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund for a quarter century, he was involved in crucial cases, including Brown v. Board of Education.
  • Aryeh Neier, President of the Open Society Institute (moderator)

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